Dancers from the London Festival Ballet on the 31st of May, 1952. They are photographed on London’s Southbank.
The company was renamed the English National Ballet in 1989, and is today home to some of the world’s most famous ballet stars, many of them from overseas.
Soviet ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, one of only a handful of dancers in history to hold the title of Prima Ballerina Assoluta, died on the 2nd of May, 2015.
Born into a prominent family of Lithuanian Jews, Plisetskaya completed her ballet training in Moscow, first performing at the Bolshoi Theatre at the age of eleven.
Despite being one of the most respected dancers in history, she was treated badly by the anti-Semitic Russian authorities. For the first sixteen years of her career she was banned from leaving the country.
Plisetskaya followed in the footsteps of another great Soviet ballerina: Galina Ulanova, and took over her position as the Bolshoi’s star dancer upon Ulanova’s retirement. Plisetskaya was a member of the Theatre until 1990.
Succumbing to a heart attack, she was eighty-nine at the time of her death.
Ulrike Lytton as the bad fairy Carabosse in The Australian Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty in December, 1984. Lytton committed suicide in the 1990s, soon after retiring from dance.
The destroyed theatre. X
One of the worst building fires in US history occurred in New York on the 5th of December, 1876. At least 278 – but possibly more than 300 – people were killed when a fire broke out at the Brooklyn Theatre during the final act of The Two Orphans.
The blaze began on the prompt side of the stage (the side where the stage manager sits). It was noticed part of the set had caught fire. Sets for more than one production were backstage at the time, meaning it was impossible to get the fire hose to extinguish the blaze.
Harper’s Weekly cover reporting on the fire. X
The performers onstage were made aware of the fire, but continued with the show for a short time, worried about causing a panic. Stagehands tried to extinguish the flames, but the fire continued to gain ground.
Despite being close to the flames, several members of the performing company took to the stage to call for the audience to be calm, so that people could escape the theatre safely.
One of those performers was Kate Claxton, who was later described as:
‘the nerviest woman I ever saw … [She] came out with J. B. Studley, and said the fire would be out in a few moments. She was white as a sheet, but she stood up full of nerve.’ X
Most of the deaths occurred in the highest, cheapest seats, where several hundred people sat, and where the narrow exit became blocked and people trampled each other. Many succumbed to smoke inhalation.
Floor plan of the theatre, published two days after the fire. X
By the time firemen arrived at the scene nobody responded to their calls, and cracks had begun to appear in the building.
Less than half an hour after the first flames were spotted, much of the theatre collapsed.
The theatre in ruins. X
Several years after the disaster, Kate Claxton reflected that it had been a mistake to continue the play, and that the curtain should have been kept down and the performance cancelled so the audience could have evacuated before they were made aware of the fire.
This hand-coloured etching of London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was published on the 25th of November, 1812.
When this etching was published the building had only been opened a few weeks. This is the third theatre to have stood there, and it was opened on the tenth of October that year. It is the same building that now stands on the site.